It is this idea that Alexander Harding cites as his inspiration for his series Visible Light, a photographic series that evokes a narrative of phantom shapes, dreamy moods, and mystic properties that only light can inspire. In this way, Harding uses light as both the medium and subject which is typically a no-no in photography and could be seen as basic, yet his technique and manipulation is what makes it not just excusable but impressive.
Personally and considering, I’ve been troubleshooting with prisms in my east facing apartment for weeks, Harding’s expertise and subsequent images are inspiring to me. He shared his fascination with light and photography with me over the span of a few weeks as we discussed Visible Light. Please welcome Al Harding.
How did you come into photography?
Although I had taken photography classes in high school, I considered myself a painter while I was in college. I was more interested in the work done by painters and hadn’t really pursued photography for some time. In my last year of college I had a really hard time making paintings, nothing really worked. I was out of ideas and didn’t quite know what I wanted to make. I took a class in color photography as a elective and learned to use a view camera. I ended up being happy with what I made for the first time in art school. I haven’t made a painting since then.
What began your exploration and affinity with light?
I, like most of us have always felt affected by the sun. I like being outside when its warm and generally feel down in the winter months when we don’t see it quite as much. In the beginning of my time with photography around when I finished college, I was really into the work of the artist James Turrell – he’s a sculptor of sorts who makes rooms that are designed to show certain aspects of how light works. I saw a small retrospective of his in Pittsburgh and was just blown away. In seeing his works, you get the sense that light itself is a thing – in these spaces he builds you can literally feel it in an unfamiliar way. It feels as if you can touch it.
I really liked seeing this show and feeling affected by light myself, I got the sense that perhaps that is what I should try to photograph. I feel that photography is ideal for me because the medium itself is controlled by light. The word ‘Photography’ means writing or drawing in light – and that’s the kind of pictures I try to make – pictures that are about light.
You mention James Turrell. His work employs light and examines it as an object but also tinkers with his structures to evoke a certain mood. What do you think about the way lighting affects our moods and how do you feel you convey this in your work?
I certainly agree that some of Turrell’s works certainly can have a physical or emotional effect. I certainly get a positive physical sensation every time I see one of his pieces. It’s just a simple positive feeling, but its still puzzling to me at times that light can illicit such a reaction.
I feel that lighting both natural and man-made, certainly has an effect on our emotions and physiology. I think just now we’re becoming more aware of this culturally. Engineers have made available a wide selection of ‘daylight’ fixtures that don’t really look like daylight, certainly provide a warmer, slightly less artificial glow. These kinds of lighting are certainly becoming more of the norm. Fluorescent lighting is thankfully being used less.
Speaking logistically, how do you set up your photographs? Are there ever instances when you find light behaving in this way?
Most of my photographs are set up as a sort of still life or event. I occasionally make a straightforward picture of something I stumble upon, but mostly I have to make the thing happen on my own. The things that light does are usually don’t last very long and don’t translate well into photographs. I usually get an idea for a picture and then try to go out and make it happen. Most of the time it doesn’t work all that well at first. When I got the idea for my Oil Spill picture, I had seen some great patterns in oil on concrete earlier that week. I thought I could make a good picture of this. It had continued to rain so I was sure I could find one again. When I went out with my camera and looked, they were all gone. I had to make it myself. I went to a Home Depot and bought a quart of oil and spilled a little in the parking lot and made the picture.
How long did Visible Light take to develop and collect as a series? How did you envision a series?
I began photographing for Visible Light in January 2010 and I’m still making these pictures. I’m always making pictures but they don’t always fit together all that well. When I get the urge to make a picture, I make it and see if it fits with others I’ve made. Some don’t fit at all, and that’s just fine too. They go on a shelf until I find a place for them. For me, photography has always been part compulsion. Sometimes you just need to make a picture and you don’t really know why. You have to make it- either it fits or you just get it out of your system. Either situation gives me a good feeling.
What brings you the most pleasure as a photographer?
What gives me pleasure is being surprised. I usually prepare quite a bit before the camera even comes out of its case. I always feel like I have a good idea about what the picture is going to look like. Sometimes my guess is accurate but I’m always more satisfied when something shows up on the film that I couldn’t see. Pictures that I’ve loved seeing always showed me something I hadn’t quite seen before. That always pleases me.